One of the most provocative statements at the conference I attended Monday was the suggestion that within 15 years the church in America would face persecution. In a world with many ways to God, many “truths,” and many lifestyles, how long will our culture tolerate our message that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life? In many ways, we are back in the world of the early church with many gods, many spiritualities, and many ways of life. And when the early church’s message rubbed against another way of life (think of Paul in Ephesus in Acts 19), there was persecution. What to do?
One answer is simply to do what Jesus told us to do and “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). While persecution may come from our message, our actions of love may reduce that persecution. (I should stop here, and say that we should love others because they are made in the image of God and we were created to love. Receptivity to the gospel and possible lessening of persecution are primarily results.)
Another answer is to start seasoning our message with love. Not that we compromise the message, but too often our approach to speaking the message seems to be arrogant and in your face. There is a humble way to share the message, and this is the path of Jesus.
But what to do when persecution comes? Jim Grier, who suggested that persecution was coming, also suggested that the church wasn’t ready. To get ready, he said, we need to give up our addiction to material wealth, our idolatry to consumerism. It reminds me of Achan in Joshua 7 who by his testimony saw and coveted. And there is a lot to see today, and hence a lot to covet. And so we see, we covet, and we buy. This is the American way of life. But our desire is to be set on God and his Kingdom, not on material things. Again in the words of Jesus, we are to lay up treasure in heaven, not on earth. Ask yourself this question: if you had to choose between a comfortable life with your material things and a persecuted life with God, which would you choose? We know the right answer, but would we really make that choice? Now is the time to end our passion for things, and start living with a passion for God, so that if persecution comes, and that choice is forced upon us, our hearts will be bent to make the right choice.